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UHERO says regulations are burdening the local housing inventory

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A new University of Hawai’i’s Economic Research Organization brief released Thursday took into account the inventory of affordable housing and the monetary costs of rezoning lands and permitting.

The price to ensure homes are up to safety codes is often passed on, UHERO Executive Director Carl Bonham said Thursday.

“If we require that new homes be built with all of the wiring in place so that the owner can choose to have solar panels put on the roof easily, or so that the owner can put an EV charging station, then those impose a cost,” Bonham said. “And who pays the cost? The buyer of the house does.”

Bonham, along with UH researchers Rachel Inafuku and Justin Tyndall, were inspired by the lack of Hawai’i data in the Wharton Residential Land Use Regulatory Index, which measures local regulations on housing inventory.

Compared with the 30 most expensive counties nationwide, Hawai’i Island has the highest index value, with Kaua’i, O’ahu and Maui also ranking fairly high.

By surveying county planning departments, researchers discovered that approval delays in Hawai’i often range from 14 to 18 months.

“Whereas if you look at the most restrictive communities in the country, the average is about eight months,” Bonham said. “So it's taking us two times longer than the most restrictive communities in the country to get projects through the approval process.”

Bonham said lifting regulations won’t necessarily increase housing supply, but that there needs to be more of a balance between regulation and getting homes to market if there will be any reform.

“If our goal is to have housing for everybody, affordable housing for everyone, we have to figure out how to actually be able to bring housing to market so that when there's an increase in demand, like we saw during the pandemic, we can actually build more housing,” he said. “That's the only way you can keep prices from going up when demand goes up.”

Sabrina Bodon was Hawaiʻi Public Radio's government reporter.
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